A two-day international conference on autism opened in Dhaka yesterday with a call for promoting legislative and policy actions to ensure quality healthcare for autistic people, especially the children.
The conference has brought together government leaders, policymakers, experts and activists from around the globe to discuss how to spread awareness about autism in Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.
Autism is a lifelong neurological disability that affects how a person communicates with and relate to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
Opening the conference as chief guest, Indian Congress party President Sonia Gandhi said it is unfortunate that the autistic persons in South Asian societies generally do not get the empathy they deserve.
"Too often we forget that nature's unfairness to them results in a life wasted. The disabled, too, need not just food, education and shelter, but to be recognised as persons," she observed.
Sonia said society should pay greater attention to autistic persons. "If society nurtures them, it will get back much in return."
Speaking of the enormous challenge posed by autism, she said, “There is much of it [autism] that we still do not understand. Science itself in the seven decades of research has not found clear answers or explanations for its causes.”
Sonia, also chairperson of India's ruling United Progressive Alliance, noted that prevalence of autism is widespread and today it is believed that nearly one person out of every hundred is afflicted with autism.
In India alone, she added, 8 million individuals are estimated to have autism spectrum conditions.
She stressed the need for civil society's participation in sensitising people to autism and in providing quality care and services to those affected.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who addressed the meet as special guest, emphasised establishing the rights of the challenged people in developing countries.
"It is necessary to create social and legal frameworks to mitigate sufferings of the challenged people, protect their rights, and promote their causes,” she said adding that in most of the developing countries, the rights of those challenged are rarely recognised, and seldom met.
Hasina pointed out that dangers such as social stigma, misinformation and lack of experts and treatment centres limit the quality of support available to the autistic persons.
Necessary social and legal frameworks should be created and infrastructures built to lessen their sufferings, protect their rights and promote their causes, she continued.
“Challenges faced by families living in poverty are already immeasurable; it is even more challenging when that child has a complex disability such as autism.”
The prime minister mentioned that identification of a disability and appropriate interventions within the first year of a child's life are particularly important when it comes to meeting the challenges of neuro-developmental disorders such as autism.
She called upon all to work in cooperation with one another so that as a region "we can develop scientifically sound practices, which are socially applicable and economically feasible”.
Arranged on the theme “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia”, the conference adopted seven-point Dhaka Declaration at its opening session.
It also appealed to the donors to pay attention to the unmet needs of millions of people affected by autism and financially support the programmes planned to improve care and services.
Global research and advocacy forum Autism Speaks organised the conference in collaboration with the government of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University and World Health Organization (WHO).
Bangladesh does not have specific data on those affected by autism but officials estimate that around 150,000 children may be classified as autistic.
Health Minister Dr AFM Ruhal Haque said the government will carry out a special census to determine the number of the autistic persons.
At the conference, it was stated that the autistic populace in the world is increasing at a rate ranging from 10% to 17%. The exact number of autistic people is not available, but the experts claim it would be tens of millions.
The inaugural function was addressed, among others, by Sri Lankan first lady Shiranthi Wickramasingha Rajapaksa, Maldives vice-president's wife Ilham Hussain, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, Health Minister AFM Ruhal Haque, Indonesian Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, Bhutanese Health Minister Lyonpo Zangley Dukpa, Andy Shis of Global Autism Public Health Initiative, Shekhar Saxena of WHO, Aysha Saif Mohammad Hamadan Ali of UAE and Belal Al Nezami of Jordan.
Hasina's daughter Saima Hossain, an autism activist and an organiser of the conference, was also present.
A cultural programme styled "The Land That I Love" was presented by the national cultural team of children with autism.
Earlier in the day, Sonia Gandhi placed wreaths at National Mausoleum at Savar, paying tribute to the independence martyrs. She also placed wreaths at the mural of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Bangabandhu Memorial Museum at Dhanmondi.
The Congress chief met Hasina after inaugurating the conference.
She called on President Zillur Rahman at Bangabhaban after the special ceremony in which she received Bangladesh Freedom Honour on behalf of her slain mother-in-law Indira Gandhi. Source: Books, Magazines and Online News.
An International Conference on 'Autism Spectrum Disorders and Development Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia'
DhakaThe landmark autism conference ended in the city yesterday as its chief architect, Saima Wazed Hossain, hoped that the two-day meet would generate new hopes among the families with autistic children in and outside the country.
"Now is the time to create greater awareness, acceptance, and understanding of autism spectrum disorders and mental health conditions in South Asia", she said in the concluding session at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in the city.
Nearly 370 participants from home and abroad took part in the conference as India's ruling Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi opened it Monday.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the conference.
A number of other high-profile dignitaries including Sri Lankan First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, Maldives' vice-president's wife Ilham Hussain, and health ministers from Indonesia and Bhutan attended the conference to be followed by a three-day training workshop for parents of autistic children, psychologists, and physicians.
The conference that drew a huge attention from highest levels of politics in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and some other countries in South and Southeast Asia also got promise from World Health Organisation (WHO).
"We will do everything we can -- starting from system development to technical assistance to fellowship for autism managers", said Quazi Monirul Islam, insisting that the WHO was committed to making it happen.
Representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia spoke high about the conference and promised anew to spearhead the cause of disability in their respective countries.
"Let's lay the foundations for a South Asian Autism Network (SAAN) from the Dhaka conference", Saima said, hoping that the proposed network would develop international collaborations through high levels of political and social network.
The US-licensed school psychologist, Saima said as countries in South Asia share identical language, culture and heritage, these countries together can make a big difference in identifying solutions to disability, with autism.
Prof Naila Zaman Khan of Dhaka Shishu Hospital on the sidelines of the conference said it's time for philanthropists and the rich to come forward.
Bhutanese delegate Phintsho Choden, Myanmar's Dr Kyaw Linn, and India's Alok Ghuha spoke in the conference among others.
Vision for how you live
Children with autism and developmental disorder perform a dance before the participants of the inaugural session of an international conference on 'Autism Spectrum Disorders and Development Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia' at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in the city yesterday
Indian National Congress President Sonia Gandhi shows a gesture of departure at the event
Sheikh Hasina shakes hands with Sri Lankan First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa
Sonia Gandhi and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni had a talk during the programme
Participants, including the foreign guests, clap to encourage the performers
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain talking to Sonia Gandhi during the event
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